There’s no point in arguing with stuff like this:
Some of the other students told [Anne Archer] that Katselas was a Scientologist, so she began the Life Repair program at the Celebrity Centre. “I went two or three times a week, probably for a couple of weeks,” she said. “I remember walking out of the building and walking down the street toward my car and I felt like my feet were not touching the ground. And I said to myself, ‘My God, this is the happiest I’ve ever been in my entire life. I’ve finally found something that works.’ ” She added, “Life didn’t seem so hard anymore. I was back in the driver’s seat.”
It’s easy to attack Scientology as bananas because of the aliens and the volcanoes and the shunning, but there’s no denying that it, like every other religion, has been a positive influence in a great number of lives.
The real problem, it seems to me, isn’t Scientology as such. It’s the wide range of purposes we expect religions to fulfill.
Pretty much every Western religion gives gives you four things at once:
- A moral worldview (In Christianity it’s stuff like the 10 commandments, the golden rule, etc)
- A narrative of how you got here (God created the world, Adam and Eve, the flood, etc)
- A program of self-improvement (strive to become a more kind and graceful husband, father, worker, etc)
- A community of like-minded believers (church potlucks, however you feel about Judeo-Christian religions, are off the chain)
We make fun of Scientology because of its historical narrative, but we forget that the bonkers-ness of its creation myth doesn’t disqualify it from delivering genuine benefits in the other categories. Reading this mammoth New Yorker piece, a lot of the self-helpy components of Scientology actually sound pretty Oprah: work hard, think positively, avoid negative influences, strive for self-defined objectives, etc. The whole ‘auditing’ thing, which sounds weird from far away, is pretty much the same as therapy or, for that matter, confession. Regardless of why you do it, you’re probably better off when you have someone to speak intimately and regularly with.
The problem with Scientology, of course, is that if you want the self-help and community stuff you have to sign up for the aliens and the OT levels and the culty ‘separate from your family’ stuff. You can’t pick out the useful parts and leave the counterproductive parts behind.
This is what makes the atheist case against religion so difficult to make. In arguing against the bonkers stuff, you’re asking people to give up things that really do enrich their lives, give them meaning and make them better people. I’m not gangbusters about Born Again Christians at the societal level, but there’s a lot of people who managed to stop drinking or be better parents because they became one. Catholicism’s focus on helping out the most vulnerable in society is a great principle and something more of us should strive for, and it’s really unfortunate that it comes bundled with the anti-evolution and misogynistic stuff from its other components.
It’s too bad that we haven’t managed to break off the components of religion into separate programs. I would love to join a community of people trying to improve their lives and the broader society, for example, as long as I didn’t have to sign up for believing that the world hatched out of an egg or whatever. It’s my refusal to acquiesce to the moral and historical components that keeps me from getting the benefits of the others.
So we shouldn’t be arguing about whether Scientology is ludicrous. We should just encourage Scientologists to un-bundle the ludicrous stuff from the positive and community stuff. Christianity is still working on this after 2,000 years, so Scientology had better get started.